Dec 21

The New Catholic Scandal

altarcallWhen the words cover-up come to mind, I think of two things: Watergate and the Catholic Church. I now need to add a third: Let’s call it Catholic Church Cover-up 2.0.

Did you know there’s a significant, fundamentalist movement taking root in the Church? It’s in direct response to Pope Frances’ liberal, open-minded ways. And, its practitioners are embracing a type of Catholicism not seen since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

This is a major story worthy of national news coverage. And yet, it continues to fly under the media’s radar.

Regardless of if, and when, you hear about it on CNN, here’s a superb guest blog on the subject from Emily Simmons, a friend, one-time protege and top communications professional. It’s both timely and eye-opening. And, it will shock you. Swear to God……

If you haven’t had the chance yet to see ‘Spotlight,’ mark it on your holiday to-do list. The film highlights one of the American Catholic church’s darkest periods, a time marked by sexual abuse and scandal, leaving you raw with emotion, vowing to forever speak out against injustices. You’d think the scandal, highlighted by a blockbuster hit, is the worst it could get for the Catholic Church. You’re wrong.

I believe there is another scandal and church cover-up seemingly unknown outside the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s a scandal I suspect is contributing to the 52 percent of American Catholics Pew Research says have left the church at some point in their lives, and why two-thirds of them now consider themselves “ex-Catholics.”

The “Restoration Movement,” a Christian movement dating all the way back to the late 1700s, was a short-lived movement that placed an emphasis on primitive and often medieval teachings, which church leaders hoped would restore churches to a more traditional state. Catholic churches with restorative leadership practiced Gregorian chant in place of instruments; pastor-centric celebrations in place of parish-centric celebrations; and exclusion in place of inclusion. I think the reasons are pretty obvious as to why the Movement never really took off.

Until now, Restorationism has been almost unheard of. However, the growth of traditionalist seminaries and conservative opposition toward Pope Francis’ liberal leadership have created the perfect breeding ground for what the Washington Post refers to as the “Conservative Rebellion.” In an area fondly known as the Bible Belt (or south of the Mason-Dixon Line), Restorationism is making a comeback, and conservative rebels are leading a crusade to reform little Catholic churches back to the good old days of chanted, Latin masses.

You might be asking yourself what’s wrong with Restorationism. Why not let conservatives worship in a more traditional church? Well for starters, a traditionalist Catholic Church bans women, gays, lesbians and divorcees from the celebration (talk about primitive!). But also traditionalist churches go against the changes brought forth in the 1960s by the Vatican II Council—a Council formed specifically to modernize the church in a way that promoted inclusion, congregational participation, and acceptance of gays, lesbians, divorcees and (gasp!) women whom have had abortions.

Outside the fact Restorationism compromises basic human rights and civil liberties, there’s one ideology it promotes that should scare us all: Complete and utter allegiance to the Church. The Restoration Movement forfeits all congregational control to church leaders, vowing all parishioners to have complete faith and support of leadership decisions. History will tell you just how well that has worked out for the Catholic Church.

One Catholic diocese in particular has been making local and national headlines for its discreet Restoration Movement rollout across its parishes. The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, led by Bishop Peter Jugis, has been strategically placing traditionalist priests across rural, isolated churches in Western North Carolina, confirms one diocesan priest (whom I should note wished to remain anonymous in fear of speaking out against the Church). “Wherever they go, people leave,” says the priest. Yet in these remote areas, leaving is difficult due to the lack of alternative options. Instead, these parishes are left to fend for themselves and helplessly watch as the Bishop follows through with his plans, against the wishes of parishioners across the diocese.

I’ve witnessed firsthand what this Restoration Movement has done to parishes. The church in which I was raised and where my family devoutly practices their faith is one of the many Appalachian churches under traditionalist leadership. The National Catholic Reporter recently covered the story, resulting in over a thousand pieces of reader commentary. Dozens of readers across the country have shared similar stories about this underground movement, their grievances unrecognized by the church they’ve placed a lifetime’s worth of faith in. Yet despite the collective outcry for help, the Catholic Church’s response has been sadly predictable: non-existent and unapologetic.

Not only have national outcries fallen upon deaf ears, parishioners are now being silenced for speaking out. Church Militant also covered the story in favor of the Church and its decisions to opt for more traditional services. However, when parishioners in opposition of traditionalism began leaving comments of the story, the publication promptly deleted the comments and banned these readers from the site. First Amendment rights anyone?

For those of you familiar with the Church’s sex abuse scandal, you’ll recall that many of the pedophiliac priests preyed on young boys from poor, often fatherless families. It was a control tactic that allowed the Church’s leaders to retain power and take advantage of the weak and vulnerable. Victims who spoke out against the Church were ousted by not only the Church, but also the Community. In my opinion, these rural churches are no different from the abused children. The Church has just found another way to assume control at the expense of the less fortunate, proof that little has changed in the Church.

The American Catholic Church is a dying organization. Pope Francis’ recent U.S. visit was meant to rejuvenate American faith in the Church. Unfortunately, this Conservative Rebellion will counteract these efforts, and the effects will be irreversible.

“I tell you sincerely, I am afraid of rigid priests. Rigid priests, keep them away. They bite.” –Pope Francis


Dec 17

The Boys of Summer would be proud

82378a_lgA just-released survey from Grammarly, a writing app that corrects spelling and grammatical mistakes, revealed that Brooklyn sports fans are the SIXTH most erudite in the nation! Talk about counter-intuitive.

Grammarly’s annual Pro Sports Power Rankings examine the first five comments posted under articles on each official MLB, NBA and NFL team blog from official sports team and sports fan websites (Think:, etc.).

Once they’ve gathered 100 comments for each team in each city, Grammarly’s wordsmiths identify misspellings, wrong and missing punctuation, misused or missing words and subject-very disagreement. Phew! That sounds tougher than trying to defend against a last-second Tom Brady drive.

Anyway, Brooklyn fans bested their peers in 35 other cities when it came to the proper use of the English language (which truly boggles the mind).

I asked Grammarly’s experts to explain why America’s self-proclaimed fourth largest city had fared so well.

Michael Mager, who managed the data collection, said, “Our study revealed that NBA fans tended to write more accurately than NFL and MLB fans. Because the Nets are Brooklyn’s only professional team, it’s likely that’s why they appeared higher in the rankings.” Now, there’s a comment that HAS to warm the heart of Spike Lee.

Some of the survey’s other cool findings included:

– Fans in Tennessee managed to come in both first (Memphis) and last (Nashville). I’ve got to believe country music’s inane lyrics had some effect on Nashville’s dismal performance.

– Philadelphia dropped from fifth to 25th place… because of Phillies fans. That comes as no surprise to me. What DOES surprise me is Philadelphia’s excellent performance in 2014. Talk about an outlier.

I’m pumped about Brooklyn’s strong finish. It really puts to bed the long-standing belief that, while the old Brooklyn Dodgers fans were among the most ardent in baseball history, they were also considered semi- illiterate (i.e. They nicknamed their team Dem Bums, etc.).

The surviving members of the now defunct Brooklyn baseball team Roger Kahn dubbed ‘The Boys of Summer’ are probably waving their A.P. Style Guides in salute.

Dec 16

 Does God need a new campaign strategy?


God-SquadThe beautiful thing about TrumpMania is its positive effect on the quality of reality TV programming. Aside from the first season of the Jersey Shore, name one other reality show that’s captured more eyeballs than, “As the Trump Turns”?

On the downside, though, many otherwise fascinating stories have been buried by the avalanche otherwise known as The Donald.

Case in point: just re-released the findings of a 2013 survey that asked Americans their feelings about religion in general and God in particular.

The reason for doing so is rather obvious: With the proliferation of automatic weapons and the carnage wreaked by misguided individuals using those guns to perpetrate mass killings, people HAVE to be asking, “Where’s God?”

FROM BAD TO WORSEIn examining the survey results, it becomes clear that, even in the comparatively tranquil year of 2013, God’s favorability numbers had begun tanking. To wit:

– While 74 percent of Americans still believed in Him, that number had dropped eight percent in just a decade.

– Miracles just weren’t bring seen as such by so many: Only 72 percent vs 79.

– Belief in heaven as the “last and final” stop as the always redundant NJ Transit conductors like to say, slipped to 68 percent from 75.


God is also facing new, and unexpected, opponents to his once commanding lead in the polls:

– Belief in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution rose from 42 to 47 percent (Note: There was no indication whether voters included apes, monkeys or chimpanzees).

– Nearly three in 10 Americans now believe in astrology! Three decades ago, believers had been limited to just Nancy Reagan and a few members of her inner circle.

– 39 percent still see God as a man while only one percent picture her as a woman (so much for shattering the ultimate glass ceiling). Thirty-one percent don’t see the deity as either male  or female, and an oh-so-trendy 10 percent see the Lord as either a man trapped inside a woman’s body, or vice versa.

Perhaps the most crucial statistic in the run-up to the 2016 primaries is this:

– Absolute belief in God has dropped by almost 10 percent in a decade. Curiously, the leading true believers are comprised of:

* blacks (70 percent)

* Republicans (65 percent)

* Older Americans (62 percent)

Try pulling together those three constituencies with a unifying theme.

There’s still some 11 months until Americans go to the voting booths but, were I in God’s sandals, I’d look for a new campaign manager and strategy. These numbers do not bode well.




Dec 09

Personal Foul: Poor Parenting. 15-yard penalty

Do you let your 10-year-old son play football? Is 8-year-old Benjamin a star on his ice hockey team? What about your twins, Barbie and Biff, are they tearing up the soccer field?

Well, according to Bennet Omalu, the chief medical examiner of San Joaquin County, Ca., and an associate professor at UCal-Davis, you’re putting your child’s future at grave risk (link).

That’s because Omalu says, “It has become clear that repetitive blows to the head in high-impact sports such as football, ice hockey, mixed martial arts and boxing, places athletes at risk of permanent brain damage.”

And, here’s the kicker if you will. Omalu says the human brain doesn’t becomes fully developed until our kids reach the age range of 18 to 25 years old.

He also says it’s our moral duty as parents to wait for our kids to grow up, be provided with the information on the risk of play, and let them make their own decisions.

While I agree wholeheartedly with Omalu, his recommendations present a two-fold problem:

1.) Cash-strapped parents purposely place their kids in these dangerous sports in the hope that Little Ed or Tiny Tina will win a full boat college scholarship.

2.) In order to become a professional athlete in any of these sports, one HAS to begin honing one’s skills at a very early age.

It seems to me the only solution is a complete overhaul of the uber violent sports such as ice hockey and football. And, we know that’s not going to happen until the top brass at the NFL and NHL wake up to the fact that, without a steady influx of young, talented athletes, their sports are at grave risk of fading into oblivion.

I know it seems like an absurd prediction but, with more and more parents heeding Omalu’s advice (as well as  the conclusive medical proof that multiple concussions DO cause permanent brain damage later in life), some major sports may disappear completely by the time Benjamin, Barbie and Biff become grandparents.


Dec 07

What C3PO can teach you about PR

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer Matt “Mark” Purdue.

83ff2f57c7d25e4785a81bdaf72f8a68If you’re anything like me, the holidays are filled with one awkward social gathering after another. From potlucks to family dinners, coming up with an interesting way to start a conversation feels like sitting on a Christmas ornament.

I’ve tried opening with this: “So can you tell me what you’ve been doing for the past 11 months in 50 words or less?” But this doesn’t seem to raise the level of holiday cheer.

Ah, the art of conversation. At Peppercomm, we know how tough it can be to start a conversation. That’s why we counsel clients to first listen to the conversations around them, and then – and only then – join in conversations their target audiences are already having. Oh, and bring something really interesting to say.

One of the best examples I see comes from Waze Mobile, developer of the Waze crowdsourced navigation and traffic-alert app. (Full disclosure: Waze is not a Peppercomm client.) Waze has jumped into the marketing conservation of the season – about the debut of Star Wars: The Force Awakens – in the most clever way. Not another promotion to win movie tickets, a toy giveaway or a trick that screams, “You have to download us! We’re so cool!” Instead, Waze enables users to set their turn-by-turn directions in the voice of C3PO, the punctilious-yet-loveable droid from the movie series. (Check out this video from Yahoo.)

Waze obviously gets it. Instead of shoving a me-too Star Wars promotion down our maws like yet another overcooked latke, Waze has come up with a unique way to enter into the conversation among Star Wars fans.

Now if only I could do the same at the company Festivus party.




Dec 02

Barbie flips the conversation on women’s empowerment

Today’s guest post is by Peppercommer, and father of two, Paul Merchan. 

BarbieLinkedIn3bIn my family, we’ve never pushed the girly toys onto my four year-old daughter. She loves princesses and Minnie Mouse as much as the next girl, but she’s also content with Ninja Turtles, Legos, and other gender-neutral toys, all while comfortably defining herself as a girl. As such, we’ve actually never bought her a Barbie doll.

But while watching last week’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we saw a commercial that changed our mindsets on the famous doll.

The Mattel Company, which makes Barbie, produced a television commercial that showed adorable little girls playing different adult roles in front of unsuspecting audiences. One girl showed up to a university lecture hall full of students and proudly announced she would be the professor for the day. Other girls played a veterinarian, sports coach, travelling businesswoman and museum tour guide. The commercial ends with the line, “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become,” followed by the tagline, “You can be anything.”

In fact, Mattel created a microsite for its campaign and launched a social media initiative also titled, #YouCanBeAnything. As a parent, they’ve got me sold.

Barbie has been criticized over the years for portraying negative stereotypes about girls. Her physical appearance had been disproportionate from that of a healthy young woman. And one talking version of the doll in the early 90s even said the phrase, “Math class is tough,” sparking outrage from women’s rights groups.

But Mattel has followed rule number one in strategic communications. The company actually listened to its audience. It began to widen Barbie’s waist to conform to a more attainable body type. And it ceased to manufacture dolls and publish books that could make girls think they couldn’t do certain things as well as boys.

It’s all culminated with the You Can Be Anything campaign, which flips the conversation from a brand that has struggled with getting the right message across about girls and women, into one that’s entirely and unmistakably about women’s empowerment.

It’s a smart business move, too – no coincidence the campaign came right at the start of the holiday shopping season. But it’s so endearing and true to the principles we’re trying to teach in our home, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Santa leaves a Barbie doll under our Christmas tree this year.